The neighborhood way of death

The close-knit block is an ideal, but Paul Costello made it real for his Linden Hills neighbors. When he died, they came together again, to mourn and celebrate what he gave them.

Everyone grieves for the loss of a loved one in his or her own way, but in a small Linden Hills neighborhood, they all grieve together.

Paul Costello, 67, described by many as the neighborhood leader, died from complications involving a blood clot May 28.

He’d often be the host of a 4:30 p.m. happy hour, which he held three to four times a week in his Linden Hills backyard. On the day he died, neighbors and family gathered in Costello’s backyard like they had so many times before — this time for a wake.

"Some of the neighbors went out and bought some wine and beer," said Jennifer Costello, 31, the youngest of the Costello’s four children.

"We sat out and were telling stories . . . laughing and crying," she said.

A Minneapolis police officer for 27 years, Paul Costello was known as the unofficial neighborhood protector. He was also the one-man welcoming committee to newcomers to the 4600 block of Ewing Avenue South.

Neighbor Steve Harris said that at block events, Paul Costello encouraged neighbors to put signs out on their lawn to indicate who lived there and when they moved in.

In a unique response to death, on the day of his funeral, nearly everyone put the stake out on their lawn, accompanied by an American flag and a black ribbon, as a memorial for Paul Costello. In addition, a candle was lit on each doorstep.

"Everybody who was in town lit a candle for Paul so Lenore could see it," Harris said, referring to Costello’s wife of 42 years.

"It’s been a great healer, and it helped them also," said Lenore Costello.

The neighborhood bond

Jennifer Costello said her father was always entertainment for neighborhood functions, like the annual block parties.

"Once my dad brought a police dog and put a muff on his arm to show the kids how the dog would attack."

Harris grew up in the neighborhood and actually moved back to the same house as an adult, because he had such fond memories of the area. He said Paul Costello was the one person who "typified" the neighborhood.

"Mr. Costello became Paul," he said.

Harris said Costello always joked around with certain people, and Costello tended to pick on Harris in a playful, teasing manner. Although Costello loved to bike, Harris said he noticed the older man’s health declining following a triple bypass in 1989.

Paul and Lenore Costello moved into their house on Ewing 38 years ago. Yvonne Heinke and her husband Tom were their neighbors then and now. After living so closely to someone for over 40 years, Yvonne Heinke said of Paul, "He was like a member of the family to us."

Heinke described Paul Costello as a very energetic and light-hearted guy. "He was always the instigator of putting up signs in the neighborhood — he was a character," she said, describing Lenore as the more reserved of the duo.

"She let him do all the foolishness," she said.

Harris said he recalls the times Paul Costello spent in the front yard with children from the neighborhood. "As he got older, it got tougher and tougher to play games with the kids, but he gave it a go," he said.

Ryan Spear, 2, lives next door to the Costello house and was Paul Costello’s regular playmate.

Lenore Costello said she enjoyed watching her husband with Ryan.

"My husband, being the softie that he is, would let him sit in the car pretending like he’s driving," she said, "He was so excited sitting behind the wheel."

Lori Spear, Ryan’s mother, said the two had a special relationship and she enjoyed watching the time they spent together. "He’d beg for Mr. Paul to come play," Spear said. "Now, it’s kind of sad for me."

She said that because Costello was a former police officer, he made the neighbors feel safe. She said that people like Paul Costello are a main reason why her family has stayed in the neighborhood.

Many people outside her neighborhood don’t even know their neighbors, Spear noted. "People don’t realize what a loss it’s been for us," she said. "He built our neighborhood and made it a nice place to live."

Yvonne Heinke said her favorite memories of Paul Costello were watching him and her husband Tom attempt various home improvement projects.

"Paul was always the brawn and my husband was always the brain, until Paul had the heart problem and they had to reverse the role," she said.

Harris said when things got a little tough, he watched neighbors making an extra effort to help out.

"If the snow was extra heavy, the neighbors would give them a hand," Harris said.

He said those types of gestures, along with neighborhood events such as block parties, really showed the neighborhood at its finest.

A community response

Neighbors weren’t the only ones who responded to Paul Costello’s passing. Following his death, Lenore Costello said her gym, Curves for Women, 4343 France Avenue S., and Great Harvest Bread Company, 4314 Upton Avenue S., sent her a card.

"It’s a very meaningful thing," she said.

Owner Tom Amundson said Paul Costello would come in almost every Thursday, with a friend and have a raisin walnut cinnamon roll.

"It was a bright spot in the day," he said. "You’d see Paul and forget about whatever was bothering you."

Amundson said Paul Costello was always inquisitive about others and how the business was doing. He said Costello didn’t focus much on himself in conversation.

"He gave more to us than we gave to him," he said. "The world needs more people like this."

After death

Heinke said Paul Costello’s death brought many back to the neighborhood. "We’ve had people who have moved away 20 years ago and they were back for Paul’s funeral."

She said members of the neighborhood look out for each other and often share in life’s joys and pains. She said her neighbors touched her life too, when 8 years ago she was very ill from six months of chemotherapy.

"When I was finished, they had a party for me," she said. "Just to make me feel better about getting through it."

Heinke said neighbors now are keeping an eye out for Lenore Costello, as they had done for her when she was going through her recovery.

"I told her daughter we were going to keep Lenore on the straight and narrow," Heinke said jokingly.

Lenore Costello said she feels very safe in the neighborhood and finds the neighborhood chatter comforting. "I wouldn’t move because the neighbors are so wonderful," she said.

Although she said her neighbors are closer than most, Heinke said everyone felt a loss following Paul Costello’s death.

She noticed a change in the neighborhood. "If we see a neighbor out, we have extra time to talk," she said. "Paul always had time for everyone."